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The Singularity of Jesus and the Mission of the Church

I’ve recently published an interview with Nate Kerr over at TOJ that delves into some of the issues that have surfaced in recent discussions about Christology, ecclesiology, and mission. Check it out.

Here’s one segment:

My contention is that the focus upon the singularity of Jesus Christ forces us to rethink what we mean by the task of theology as being both dogmatic and missionary in today’s context. By dogmatic I mean to say that Christian theology is to be given to the confession of the praise of the doxa, the glory of the Lord, that shows forth in the apocalyptic singularity of Jesus Christ. And that glory is that Jesus, as the eternally sent One, has liberated the world from its oppressed laboring under the powers and principalities and, by way of this liberation, has reconciled the world to Godself. That is the gospel; that is the good news. By missionary I mean to stress that theology can only be faithfully dogmatic insofar as it is forged in the ongoing encounter and solidarity with the world’s hearing of and response to this singular gospel.

This, it seems to me, means two things primarily for how theology is to be rethought and practiced today. First, it means to insist upon the apocalypse of Jesus Christ as the singular dandum from which all theological thought must emerge. Bruce McCormack’s reading of Barth has been most important for keeping me focused upon this point. Theology determined by the singular revelation that is Jesus Christ cannot at any point or in any degree make recourse to an assumed cultural or revelational datum (a “given”) but must think in the train of that One who gives himself “anew in each new moment” as a singular dandum (“to be given”). Second, we must not forget that the singular identity of Jesus Christ as the resurrected crucified one is the identity of that one who was not afraid to lose himself in abandonment to and in identity with the marginalized and oppressed of this world. Insofar as such oppression is the work of idolatrous powers, such identification and solidarity with the oppressed is the very condition of the interruption and overcoming of these powers by the doxa, the glory of God. And so insofar as Jesus is the singular dandum of theology who gives himself to be given, we must insist that we only ever encounter Jesus, as Kierkegaard would say, in the forgetfulness of himself in the suffering world, in the giving of himself incognito in the poor and suffering neighbor. Mission, as such, thus becomes that movement of self-giving whereby we are given ever-anew to receive that one Christ who gives himself precisely by giving himself ever-anew in what Bonhoeffer calls the “strangeness” of the other. But this means that mission is itself a certain kind of preferential option for the poor. For it is precisely as this singular Jesus turns to give himself to and identify with the dying and soon-to-be-dead poor of this world (and we find this movement all throughout the Gospel of Mark, for example) that Jesus makes his way to the cross. And it is as he moves to the cross with, for, and as these poor that Jesus is given to receive the genuinely new and irruptive doxa of God’s coming reign—resurrection. In turn, it is precisely as our thoughts and words give us to live and speak in solidarity with the dying and soon-to-be-dead poor of this world, to eat and drink with them, that we theologians are given with, for, and as these poor to receive, and to bespeak, the genuinely new and irruptive doxa of God’s coming reign.

4 Comments

  1. bruce hamill wrote:

    This is a nice clear piece. I tried to respond in the comments on TOJ but, having registered, couldn’t get my login to work. Your comment about the relation between upbuilding and sending is interesting. It reminds me of how the use of the phrase ‘from maintenance to mission’ often works in the opposite way from your concern. The idea is often to move culturally insular institutions away from upbuilding (maintenance) to sending (mission). I tend to see the priority of upbuilding as a consequence of the priority of the ‘receptive moment’ wherein mission (being sent) is dependent on undergoing the apoclypse of Jesus and so being opened to the world and its poor. Where you see a major danger in the outward movement being short circuited I see a major danger in the undergoing (upbuilding) being short circuited. Is this a matter of the different context we live in, or theological differences, do you think?

    Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 1:19 am | Permalink
  2. roger flyer wrote:

    Great interview Halden.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 6:56 am | Permalink
  3. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    Halden — Ditto Roger’s remark.

    I guess my only “criticism,” if you can call it that, is the inattention (in the interview, at least — perhaps not Nate’s book, which I haven’t read) to sacrament and its relationship to eschatology. I know this may sound like I’ve got Herbert McCabe on the brain (not a bad thing, mind you), but he has some very compelling reflections throughout his work on the Eucharist as a genuine participation in the consummated future. This in itself rests on a certain understanding of time, not as relentlessly linear, but as, in some way analogous to relativity physics, curved: the future comes to meet us.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 8:24 am | Permalink
  4. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Gene:

    Thanks for the comment. So far as the eucharist goes, you won’t find what you’re looking for in my first book. You will find me dealing with precisely this issue in my next book on the church of the poor, though.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

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